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Cyclists on sidewalk face tickets, complaints

on October 16, 2008


Lined with coffeehouses and bookstores, bakeries and flower shops, College Avenue is one of North Oakland’s busiest streets. Sidewalks are frequently jammed as couples stroll idly side by side, dogs mosey around testing the length of their owners’ leashes, and friends sip café lattes while chatting on the outside tables. Large trees, planted every several yards, make up for their hoggish use of walkway space with plentiful shade.

What is not as easily reconciled are the occasional bicyclists riding up the sidewalk as though it were a bike lane, to the dismay and annoyance of residents on foot.

“While I was crossing Manila on College, a bicyclist was also riding across in the crosswalk and went up the disabled cut in the sidewalk and nearly ran me over,” said Sue Feinstein, 60, who frequently walks on College Avenue. “The person was totally oblivious to what had happened– I never expected a bike to come up the sidewalk like that.”

Rockridge resident Karen Ivy had a similar experience. “It was just the other day that I got out of my car and stood on the sidewalk looking in my purse for something and turned slightly toward the street,” she said. “I lifted my head and turned to walk toward my house and found myself looking at a boy in his middle teens, gliding silently down the sidewalk on his bicycle. He was less than a foot from me; he just missed me. He rolled away as if nothing were wrong.”

The Rockridge Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), which works with the Oakland Police Department on safety issues, made bicycle violations around College Avenue a top priority this summer and fall. “The NCPC has received many requests from citizens to address the danger bikes pose to pedestrians, especially senior citizens, when they are ridden on sidewalks,” NCPC co-chair Denise Jorgensen emailed in response to a reporter’s question. “It is our hope that word will get out, by the warnings and citations, that it is actually illegal for bicycles to be ridden on sidewalks in Oakland.”

On Aug. 8, Oakland police held a one-day “Safe Biking Operation,” in which officers were extra-diligent about issuing citations to law-breaking bicyclists in an effort to remind them of the rules. Flyers noting the laws were also posted along the street. Officer Ercivan Martin reported the following breakdown for the citations, which were issued on Telegraph Avenue and College Avenue:

45 for biking on sidewalk
5 for failing to signal
4 for ignoring stop signs
4 for failing to use right side of roadway
16 for passing red lights
4 for miscellaneous traffic violations

Oakland police Sgt. Jamie Lee says bicyclists want full reign of both the streets and sidewalks. “It’s a hypocrisy,” he said. “ Bicyclists want a share of the road, but they do not abide by the traffic rules. You cannot ride your bike on the sidewalk, and you cannot cross the street using the cross walk.” By law, bicyclists must remain on the far right of the road while on their bikes, unless they are making a left turn at an intersection. “They need to follow the same rules as vehicles if they want to be treated as such,” Lee said.

But some bicyclists say that the roads are not biker-friendly. “College is dangerous as hell on bike,” said Ill Nippashi, 26, who rides to work on College Avenue every day. “You can get doored, and you’re always looking out for cars that are backing out of stalls. I’ve seen lots of bicyclists get hit. I don’t ride on the sidewalk, but I understand why people do it.”

Tim Bockmeier, who also rides his bike daily on College, said the road surfaces are not safe. “There are often potholes and unevenness in the roads, and sometimes there will be shattered glass,” he said. “I’ve fallen from my bike many times. A car is able to go over these obstructions with no problem, but for bicyclists, it’s a major safety hazard.”

And for all the crowding and activity on the sidewalks, the roads are just as congested, according to bicyclist Sarah Levy. “I think there should be a bike lane on College, because there’s not enough room,” she said. “You’re so close to parked cars on your right and zooming cars to your left, it’s a balancing act. But I don’t think there’s enough room anywhere to add a bike lane.”

Added Nippashi, “The cars don’t respect you on the road. They get mad that you’re taking up a lane.”

Jonah Gebre, 37, frequently drives on College Avenue to shop and pick up dinner. “Bicyclists should be able to share the road,” he said. “It’s much more dangerous on bike and they’re trying to maneuver through traffic in a very congested area.” Pointing to a bicyclist riding on the sidewalk, he said, “She’s just scared.”

Judith Silverstein, 44, who lives and works on College Avenue, said she prefers to bike on the back streets. “I don’t see why so many people like to ride on College,” she said. “There are many red lights and it’s dangerous. The parallel streets are much safer and less crowded.”

But, according to Bockmeier, maneuvering through the back roads can take longer, and not everyone knows the neighborhood well enough to traverse along the residential parts. When asked about the riding conditions at night on these side streets, Bockmeier said, “I forgot about how dangerous it can be to ride alone at night. I can definitely see why people would be scared of being mugged and bike jacked. Someone once tried to steal my bike from right under me.”

Regardless of the difficulties of taking alternative routes on College Avenue, Denise Jorgensen of the Rockridge NCPC says it is still illegal to ride on the sidewalk. And although it was not made an official priority in September due to the many other issues residents wanted addressed, she says the issue remains high on the list and could be made a priority again. “But even if something doesn’t make the month’s official priority list,” she said, “the fact that problems are discussed with the OPD…makes the NCPC confident that they’ll keep those problems in mind during the month.”

So as the bicycle battle on the crowded street continues, Officer Patrick Gerrans, the Problem Solving Officer for the Rockridge area, says people need to be mindful of each other. “Everybody wants to enjoy College Avenue because it’s a nice area,” he said. “And with all the car traffic, it’s always going to be more dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians, it’s just the way it is. Just share the road.”

For a related story on the rise in bicycle commuting in our sister news outlet Mission Local, click here:||||||||||||||||||||


  1. Peter on October 25, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    Note to Sgt. Jamie Lee – bicyclists do _not_ need to remain on the far right of the road while on their bikes unless they are making a left turn at an intersection.” There are plenty of conditions that allow us to legally occupy the center of the lane.

    Condition 3., below, is what often forces smart bicyclists to ‘take the lane’. It’s legal, as it should be.

    The full law is below – I had a cop pull me over after I took the lane in SF not long ago. These guys need to learn the law if they’re going to be enforcing it:

    Duty of Bicycle Operator: Operation On Roadway. VC 21202

    a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at such time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

    1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or motor vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
    2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
    3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

  2. Doug Faunt on December 2, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    And if you do take the lane, as is often necessary to be safe from doors or road hazards, you’ll endure harassment from motorists, sometimes to a degree that could easily be defined as assault with a deadly weapon.

  3. Josh on June 30, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Well about the bicycle in the center of the lane or even on the street, that is crap. I have seen them in the winter time going down hill and causing accidents. I will run them over without hesitation to avoid running into a car. They have no right to be on the road, I think it should be sidewalks or the side of the road at most. Not center or half in a lane.

    If you cannot go the speed limit then well I’m going to call the police on every bicycle rider I see hindering traffic. I’ve even seen them on the freaking highway…

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